2011 - %3, June

House GOP Tells DHS to Stop Worrying About Climate Change

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 4:00 PM EDT

Readers of this blog are well-versed in Republican attempts to axe any and all government programs that include the word "climate" in the title. Among their attempts so far this year: axing NOAA's climate service, taking a chainsaw to the EPA, and attempting to defund NASA's climate work, to name a few. The latest? On Thursday, the House GOP passed a measure barring the Department of Homeland Security from working on a government-wide plan to prepare for climate change.

Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) tacked an amendment onto the DHS budget bill for fiscal year 2012 that bars DHS from working with the Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. The task force, created by the Obama administration, is charged with making recommendations about how to prepare for climate change. From Energy & Environment Daily ($ub. req'd):

The Carter amendment would likely prohibit DHS staff from coordinating with staff from other agencies to assess the risks climate change poses to domestic security and to find ways to adapt to it, an administration aide said.
In his statement supporting the amendment, Carter said that it is unnecessary for DHS to use any of its resources to address climate change, because US EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also have climate mitigation and monitoring programs.

Well, yes, other agencies do have climate programs (though I would note that the House GOP has defunded some of the very same climate work at those agencies that Carter now touts). But that doesn't mean that the national security community has no role to play in preparing for the impacts of climate change. Carter's not the first to go after the task force, as Senate Republicans also targeted it earlier this year. This latest effort, though, goes the extra step of actively telling national security experts to stop caring about an issue that they have flagged as a concern.

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Palin's Clambake Trumps Romney's Presidential Roll-Out

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 3:30 PM EDT

Mitt Romney's nascent presidential campaign must be pissed about the front page of today's New Hampshire Union Leader, the day after he officially announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican nomination. As you can see, it was Sarah Palin's trip to the Granite State that got the coveted A1 treatment, while Romney's news got a small sidebar and a story tucked on the inside of the paper:

A closer look:

Ouch. What does that say about Romney's popularity, in a make-or-break state for his presidential bid, that Palin's stops at a clambake and a local fishermen's pier trumped his big news?

Friday Cat Blogging - 3 June 2011

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 3:12 PM EDT

Marian was covered with cats last night while we were watching an old Star Trek episode (Nazis in space! Spock makes a laser beam from a light bulb!), so this week you get both cats in one picture. Domino has the coveted lap position, but Inkblot actually got there first and seems pretty happy curled up next door. Domino has the better view of our intrepid Federation spacefarers, though.

In other cat news, Discover magazine confirms that (a) we don't know what cats dream about, and (b) mother cats do indeed have maternal instincts. Very cute ones.

Stimulus Spending and Time Warps

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 2:52 PM EDT

Over at Cato, Daniel Mitchell posts the chart below and says it shows just how worthless Obama's economic stimulus package was. "As you can see, the unemployment rate is about 2.5 percentage points higher than the White House claimed it would be at this point."

This has become such a popular meme on the right that I suppose it's pointless to argue with it. But seriously. This chart shows the exact opposite of what Mitchell claims. I mean, just take a look at the data itself. By the time the stimulus bill had passed, unemployment was already a point higher than projections. By the end of Q3, about the earliest point that anyone thinks the stimulus might have really started working its way through the system, unemployment was already nearly two points higher. All of this happened before the stimulus could plausibly have had any significant impact on employment, either positive or negative. (CBO's tiny estimates for Q2 and Q3 of 2009 are here.) The post-collapse recession, unfortunately, was simply far bigger than the Obama administration predicted.

After that, unemployment quickly peaked and started to come down. Did it come down faster because of the stimulus? Most models of the economy say yes, though feel free to argue if you prefer a different model. But what you can't argue is that the stimulus was ineffective because it didn't have an effect before it even started. This is economics, after all, not science fiction. What this chart really suggests isn't that the stimulus didn't work, but rather that (a) the 2008-09 recession turned out to be way worse than anyone thought in late 2008, and (b) the stimulus package was too small. We're still paying the price for that mistake.

Via Peter Suderman.

Measuring the Position and Momentum of the News Media

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 1:43 PM EDT

Chad Orzel on a new study that measures the average trajectories of individual photons through a two-slit interferometer:

They haven't done anything to prove orthodox quantum mechanics wrong, though I can predict with confidence that there will be at least one media report about this that is so badly written that it implies that they did.

Explanation here. Today is National Doughnut Day (or is it National Donut Day?), so on Chad's behalf I offer a voucher for a free donut to the first person who finds the lamestream media article Chad predicts. In this day of Google alerts, it shouldn't be very hard.

And for the record, I'm very disappointed that these guys haven't blown quantum mechanics to shreds. That would have been really cool.

Saudi Women to Clinton: Help Us Win the Right to Drive

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 1:20 PM EDT

Between forging new diplomatic relationships with Egypt and Tunisia and managing the US response to ongoing strife in Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, and Syria, you might say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her hands full. But don't tell that to the women of Saudi Arabia. Hot on the heels of the Arab Spring, they're pushing Clinton to speak up for their right—not to vote or to overthrow the government, but to drive.

Over 10,000 people in the US have signed an open letter calling on Clinton to publicly support giving Saudi women have the right to drive. The campaign, which is spearheaded by Change.org, was spurred on by the plight of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who was arrested for driving and subsequently dubbed the "Saudi Rosa Parks." The letter-writers are calling for Saudi women to protest by taking to the roads en masse on June 17.

From the letter:

Saudi Arabia, one of the strongest and longest standing US allies in the Middle East, is also the only country on earth where women are not allowed to drive, or even ride a bicycle, often dubbed 'the world's largest women's prison'. As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver.

And the letter makes a direct pitch to Clinton:

We write to ask that you make a public statement supporting Saudi women's right to drive. We do not make this request lightly, but we believe that you making a public statement of support for Saudi Arabia opening the country's roads to women would be a game changing moment.

Secretary Clinton, you are a friend. Indeed, some of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world. Now, as we build the largest Saudi women's protest movement in decades, we need your help.

So far, the Saudi monarchy has managed to fortify itself against the revolutionary tide that's threatening entrenched regimes across the region. If, come June 17, its women drivers pull off their bold, potentially game-changing display of civil disobedience, everyone—including Clinton, a champion of women's rights—will have to stand up and take notice.

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Dealing With the 10 Scariest Things You Can't Avoid

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 1:15 PM EDT

Yesterday, I filtered through a deluge of articles about the evils of everyday life—according to some recent media, commuting, sitting at a desk, and even pickles, can damage your health. As promised, I talked to a pro about how we process this kind of information. Social psychologist Kevin Binning, who studies human response as a post-doc at UC-Santa Barbara, thinks that this cautionary info won't resonate with people…unless the subject at hand never really mattered to them in the first place.

Mother Jones: Are we receptive to messages about potential danger in daily life? If so, do they change our behavior?

Kevin Binning: Say I'm an avid pickle fan, and I eat them all the time. I'm not going to be swayed by the information that they could be bad for me at all. I'm not in a mental place where I’m going to be receptive. But, if I'm in a place where pickles aren't central to my identity, then next time I see a pickle I'll think, "Hm, should I be eating that?" The people who these articles are targeting are the ones who aren’t going to listen.

MJ: What if it's something we don’t have a choice about, like commuting?

KB: You'll normally say, "This is just another in a long line of things that are bad to me," and then you kind of go about your daily life. It's just another thing to add onto the pressure that we face every day. We can't possibly cope with all these threats all the time; there's no way. We will probably selectively respond to the ones that we can do something about.

China's Potemkin Aircraft Carrier

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 12:34 PM EDT

Calm down, says David Axe, "China’s First Aircraft Carrier is a Piece of Junk." It's got lousy engines, lousy air support, lousy convoy support, and lousy sub support. Basically, it's just a learning experience for the Chinese. They'll get better eventually, but eventually is still pretty far in the future. Worth a read.

This comes via James Fallows, who wants us all to pay more attention to China, but warns: "Paying attention to China, and taking it seriously, are different from being pie-eyed, gape-mouthed, and otherwise credulous about the overall nature of China's success." Also worth a read.

Employment Picture Even Grimmer Than You Think

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 11:49 AM EDT

Every month Steve Benen publishes a handy chart showing job gains and losses since January 2008. Looking at the latest dismal numbers for May, he concludes, "Any sane person should look at these numbers and conclude that the economy desperately needs a boost."

But it's worse than that. As I mentioned yesterday, the U.S. economy needs to add about 150,000 jobs per month just to stay even with population growth. This means that you really need to look at how many jobs we gained above (or below) 150,000, not above or below zero. So here's Steve's chart, modified to show just that. As you can see, the last eight months, when the economy has supposedly been starting to recover, has actually been virtually flat. Relative to population growth, we've been generating no new jobs at all.

So yes: "Any sane person should look at these numbers and conclude that the economy desperately needs a boost." Even the not especially sane ought to have figured that out by now.

Paul Revere's Ride, Reimagined by Sarah Palin

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 11:41 AM EDT

On Thursday, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin passed through Boston as part of her totally-not-a-presidential-campaign-test-run, family-vacation (yeah, right) East Coast bus tour. Because the purported mission of the trip is to help Americans "appreciate the significance of our nation's historic sites, patriotic events and diverse cultures," the former half-term Alaska governor did what most tour groups do when they come to the city: she checked out the Freedom Trail, which winds past historic landmarks like the Old North Church and Paul Revere's house. As she explained on her blog, "There's so much history here.  It's amazing how much of our nation's history can be found in just two and a half miles on the Freedom Trail." There certainly is a lot of history to be found on the Freedom Trail, but Palin appears to have lost most of it.

Here's how she described Paul Revere's famous ride:

…he who warned the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms, uh, by ringin' those bells and, um, makin' sure as he's ridin' his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we're gonna be secure and we were gonna be free. And we we're gonna be armed.

This is actually the opposite of everything Paul Revere did. He wasn't sending any messages to the British soldiers who were about to move on the patriots' weapons stockpiles and arrest key leaders. According to history, Revere was warning the Minutemen that the Brits were coming so these militia members could prepare. He did not ring any bells. He instructed a friend to put either one or two lights in the tower of the Old North Church ("one if by land, two if by sea"). He did not fire any warning shots. His ride at the time was no act of symbolism; it was a stealth operation in support of a local resistance movement whose goals at that point remained largely undefined.

Palin's Revere narrative is the latest in an emerging, alternative history of the American Revolution as researched by Republican presidential candidates. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) floated her own contrarian theory last month when she told a crowd in New Hampshire that "It's your state that fired the shot that was heard around the world, you are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for liberty right here in your backyard." That mistake—Lexington and Concord are in Massachusetts—would seem a lot more accidental if she hadn't made it twice—in prepared remarks. (In a related incident, she suggested that the Founding Fathers tried to abolish slavery.) Herman Cain, the former pizza titan who's currently polling in second in Iowa, recently told Americans to "reread" the Constitution: "When you get to the part about 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' don't stop there, keep reading." But if you're trying to read the Constitution and you come across the phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' you should really stop, because you will have been reading the Declaration of Independence.

We don't mean to nitpick—we just think that if you launch a major publicity tour on the subject of great moments in American history, it might make sense to brush up on the details first. We can only imagine how Palin might try to spin this: "Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. If the story doesn't sound like what you read on Wikipedia, you know who to blame: the elite liberal media."